Saturday, August 13, 2011

Triskaidekaphilia: '13 Months of Sunshine'

On the 13th of each month, I write about a movie whose title contains the number 13.

It's amazing what you can find while poking around Amazon's VOD offerings. 13 Months of Sunshine played a handful of small film festivals in 2008 and 2009 without making much of an impact, but thanks to Amazon, it's available to watch for anyone with an internet connection (and $2.99), and can be purchased on DVD as well, even though the movie's official site seems to have expired, and its Facebook page hasn't been updated in years. Orphaned films live on in the cloud, for people like me to randomly stumble upon.

Anyway, as much as the availability of 13 Months may be indicative of some new movie-distribution paradigm, its actual content is much less revolutionary. It's clearly a labor of love for writer-director Yehdego Abeselom, depicting life among the Ethiopian immigrant community in Los Angeles. This is certainly not a demographic that's typically represented in movies, even on the micro-indie scale, so it's interesting to get a glimpse into a sort of invisible subculture. Or at least it would be, if this movie offered up anything distinct from the typical rom-com narrative, with a few devices from the struggling-immigrant genre. The plot features main character Solomon (Sammy Amare) agreeing to a sham marriage with Hanna (Tsion Fikreselassie) so she can get her green card, and of course they eventually fall in love despite just being together for the sake of convenience.

The movie takes forever getting there, though, and the subplots about Solomon wanting to open his own coffee shop and Hanna becoming a model are tedious and awkward, the model storyline especially showing the strains of the limited budget. The acting ranges from passable to painful, but it's definitely hampered by the looping of practically all of the dialogue, which makes it sound extra stilted and false. One thing that Abeselom does well is show how casually the characters switch between Amharic and English as they're talking to each other, in a way that shows how the community has become integrated into American life while also remaining separate. A few more touches like that would have helped 13 Months seem more insightful, instead of just another generic indie dramedy with questionable production values.

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